No one is excluded from being a leader in the conservation movement.
People of all backgrounds, interests and talents can find their place in the work to preserve Georgia’s coastal beauty.
And an upcoming conference will offer the opportunity to learn about some of the tools needed to be an effective environmental leader.
One Hundred Miles, a local advocacy organization, will host the fourth annual Choosing to Lead conference March 7 at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
“We recognize that leadership can be scary, and we want to give everyone the tools that they need to take action,” said Catherine Ridley, vice president of education and communications for One Hundred Miles.
The conference alternates annually between being held in Savannah and on Jekyll Island.
“We’re really excited to be back on Jekyll this year,” Ridley said.
The daylong event kicks off at 9:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. Three breakout sessions will each offer five workshop options. Keynote speakers during lunch and during the closing session will address the entire conference.
Tables will also be set up for participants to learn more about local nonprofits that offer opportunities to get involved.
Keynote speakers this year include lunchtime speaker Heather McTeer Toney, the national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, an organization made up of more than 1 million parents committed to fighting air pollution and protecting against climate change. Youth environmental activist Armon Alex will give the closing keynote.
Other leaders from across the country will take part in workshop discussions and panels throughout the day.
“This year, I would say I’m just blown away by the slate that we have,” Ridley said. “We have nationally recognized speakers from all over the country joining us.”
2020 is the 50-year anniversary of the first Earth Day and of the passage of the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act, and the conference leaders plan to take this opportunity to reflect on the movement’s past and plan for its future.
Climate change and environmental justice will be major topics of conversation at this year’s conference.
The conference will feature a youth track again this year for local students. Members of YELP, or the Youth Environmental Leadership Program, will help lead some of the sessions.
There will also be arts-focused programming, including a writing workshop led by journalist and author Megan Mayhew-Bergman.
Janisse Ray, an author whose works often focus on nature, including her first book, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” will also lead a discussion.
The conference will also offer a faith and spirituality angle to conservation. Rev. Joann Adams will lead a discussion on how to protect the world’s most vulnerable.
“She talks about environmental justice with the lens of faith and spirituality, which is a way I think a lot of people connect to the coast in our community,” Ridley said.
Advocacy is more than holding up signs at protests, said Megan Desrosiers, CEO of One Hundred Miles. Many connect to the coast on a spiritual level and wish to share their advocacy through some artistic form.
“Because we are primarily an undeveloped coast, when people come to the Georgia coast they get to experience a unique presence of wildlife and serenity that you don’t get everywhere on the East Coast,” Desrosiers said. “And sometimes the way that that translates is very poetic in your mind and in your heart. And I think that’s unique for everybody who loves the coast.”
Ridley feels that Choosing to Lead can inspire all who attend, no matter their background or interest.
“We walk away just ready to change the world, and that’s how we want all our participants to feel,” she said. “Yes, leadership is hard work. Yes, it can be scary. But when you’re surrounded by this community of people who care about our coast as much as you do, then all these things are possible. Change is possible. And we all have that role to play.”
Desrosiers said the conference builds relationships and connects people around this important work.
“It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, how old you are, what candidate you vote for or what church you go to,” she said. “It doesn’t matter because what brings us together is this place, and that’s the place that we choose to call home.”
Conference registration can be completed online at onehundredmiles.org/choosingtolead.
A discount ticket price is offered during early bird registration, which will run through Feb. 21.
Volunteer opportunities are also available, along with a student ticket rate and partial scholarships.